Villagers from Stung Treng whose homes stand to be flooded by the Lower Sesan II dam met with representatives of the Ministry of Mines and Energy at an NGO Forum-sponsored meeting in Phnom Penh yesterday, in hopes of establishing a dialogue towards a long-awaited compromise.
One observer, however, said the meeting was fruitless, and faulted the government for failing to offer any new alternatives to the holdouts.
Nong Sareth, the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s deputy director of hydro-electricity, said that four villages, or 846 households, in Sesan district will be flooded as a result of the dam project. Of these households, Sareth said, 126 – or 13 percent – have not accepted compensation.
According to Sareth, compensation for each household includes one 80-square-metre house with 1,000 square metres of land, plus 5 hectares of farm land and a stipend of 20 kilograms of rice per month for one year.
Sareth said the dam will operate its first turbine in November 2017. Seven other turbines will go into operation in 2018, ultimately generating 400 megawatts of power.
But villagers remain reluctant to go. Nath Sota, an ethnic Lao villager from Sesan district’s Sre Kor village, said she wants the government to allow her and other villagers to stay on their ancestral land.
Moreover, she said her current location enables her to make a living growing crops and fishing. “I feel sorrow for my farmland, my ancestors’ tombs . . . [Even] if we would be flooded, we still want to live here,” said Sota.
Srey Libi, a villager who already accepted compensation and moved to a location 10 kilometres from the hydro dam, said that villagers who relocated found themselves lacking roads and clean water.
He added that villagers who moved no longer have work and requested that the government continue providing them with rice for five years.
Sareth responded that he would report the villagers’ concerns to his ministry and that he intends to maintain dialogue with those who did not accept compensation. He was steadfast, however, that they could not go on living in their villages, because flood waters could rise as high as 3 or 4 metres.
Bun Leap, a coordinator of 3s Rivers Protection Network (3SPN) who attended the meeting, said that yesterday’s discussion was not fruitful as the ministry did not offer the villagers any new solutions, such as allowing them to stay in four “safe” locations they have identified closer to their original homes.
“We will keep advocating the ministry to consider whether villagers can be allowed to move to that place once the flood comes.”